Left In Lowell

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February 26, 2009

Department of Whoa

by at 4:37 pm.

Sometimes being a blogger astounds me, and sometimes it scares me. The last couple of weeks brought a tiny jolt of both, when I started receiving media advisories from the official White House Media Affairs Office. This, though I never really asked to be.

On the other hand, whoa. How’d they know about us, a dinky little blog on the edge of the country? (Answer: cuz we’re on the internets, duh…). On the first hand, hey, really cool! I’m on the official White House Media Affairs Office media list! Then there’s the third hand…if they let lags like me get on the list…doesn’t say much for their standards. :)

Anyway, this week was all about a media conference call with the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Rob Nabors (the same one AMERICAblog was invited to), which I didn’t opt into, mostly because I am a very busy business owner right now (not complaining!). That was set for 11am this morning (as it turns out, I ended up meeting with a client then anyway, so even if I wanted to, I would have had to back out of the call).

I get back from a late lunch after said client meeting, and goddamn…they have sent thems on the “media list” a freaking transcript of the conference call. Questions and all. I am not kidding! It turns out actually, Peter Orszag, the Director of the OMB, conducted the call.

Just because I think it’s valuable for readers, and because I think it’s damn cool, I’m just going to post the whole thing after the bump. It’s pretty long, but if you’re a budget wonk, it’s full of meaty goodness.

PS: I think I might just have to opt in to some of these calls! (more…)

Great Plate Deals

by at 4:17 pm.

I’ve come to Great Plates a little late, but this week took advantage of the little promo. And thoroughly enjoyed it.

Yesterday I introduced a good friend to Market Street’s Centro and we both got the lunch Great Plate special - amazing salmon soup, chicken over orzo in coconut curry sauce, and a lovely, decadent chocolate mouse…all for under $10. They are lunch portions but we left pleasantly filled up.

Today I couldn’t help myself, I ended up at Blue Taleh to check out their choices. For just over $10, I got the equivalent of two maki rolls (California and spicy salmon, yum! I am sensing a theme for me here) and their great Pad Thai. Dessert was an ice cream sundae.

If you’re not a downtown worker like I am and can’t take advantage of these prices during weekday lunch, you can head down any time through Saturday, the 28th, for a lunch or dinner Great Plate. My review - it’s a great deal for really good food.

Off topic (sort of) but still about food - I also heard about the new market which is in development for Market St (called, appropriately, the Market St Market). It’s promising to be a sort of mini Trader Joe’s. I hope they carry unsweetened almond milk, my milk substitute of choice! If they do, I’ll be there a lot…

February 24, 2009

City Council Meeting 2.24.09

by at 9:03 pm.

Tonight’s bi-monthly meeting of the Lowell City Council was somewhat uneventful. It was preceded by a highly-informative Financial Sub-Committee meeting. I will post on that meeting later on when I have an opportunity to watch it again on LTC’s website. The meeting not only focused on how the close the budget gap in FY 09 but more importantly what are we going to do in FY 10.

The Fire Department got a lot of praises as well as applause from the City Council for quickly agreeing to help out the City in trying to close the FY 09 budget gap. See my post of 2.20.09. One thing mentioned by the CM was that the Administration has spoken to most of the City’s other unions. Although, those unions have not yet acted upon the proposal, I do not think that is due to opposition rather it is a reflection of the complexities involved with collective bargaining issues and municipal union bureaucracies. I am optimistic. I do believe most unions will agree to do their fair share.

The Council motion which got the most play was the one introduced by CC Rita Mercier Requesting the City Manager to “investigate moving police training center (used by a number of police depts.) to Early Garage” Currently the Police Department rents space at Cross Point by moving the training facility to Middlesex Street, the City gets a tenant in an empty space it owns; the City no longer will need to pay rent for the Cross Point Tower area; the garage will have additional cars parking there; the businesses in the area get a steady stream of customers; and last but not least, a police presence in that area.

That’s why it is called a game

by at 8:09 pm.

Now that the Tsongas Arena issue has moved (somewhat) out of the public domain, the Lelacheur Park issue is now moving to the forefront. In case you have not heard, the contract with the Spinners ended last December and the City through the Arena Stadium Commission is negotiating the terms of the new contract.

Since the original RFP went out, the Sun has published a number of articles on the issue. Most of them are still available on the newspaper’s website. Here is the link to the latest article, this one written by City Editor Chris Scott.

Back in January, when I initially posted on the ballpark lease issue, I mentioned that I thought the negotiations were going to be a bit “bumpy.” Little did I know how bumpy.

LiL has been told that the Spinners have solicited the assistance of the previous city manager to help them advance their case. If that is accurate, it certainly makes for intersesting political chatter. If I am not mistaken, a few years back the two had an adversarial relationship when the owner wanted to make changes to the ballpark, and the CM at the time opposed it. That is why I find politics fascinating. Never a dull moment.

Awesome

by at 4:43 pm.

Ha ha! (Spoken in the voice of Nelson Muntz.)

So much for the argument by pundits and conservatives everywhere that The People ™ think that the Republicans were the winners and Democrats and Obama the losers over this stimulus debate.

But by all means, please, keep drumming people like Governor Crist out of your party.

February 23, 2009

Budget Review

by at 12:30 pm.

Dday over at Hullabaloo gives her review of the (leaked) Obama budget.

President Obama’s budget has been leaked to major news organizations in time for the Sunday papers, and it seeks to close a yawning deficit over the long term through entirely unobjectionable means like ending unnecessary wars and ensuring that everyone pays their fair share for using the public commons. Also, importantly, he doesn’t try to close the budget gap entirely, and he’s offering an honest appraisal of the numbers instead of the stupid budget tricks that have defined the past decade.

She quotes a lot of the details, but suffice it to say, there’s some spending decreases (one of which is defunding Bush’s failed Iraq war as we draw down) and some tax increases (letting the failed Bush tax cuts expire, so that the top tax rate goes from its current 35% to 39% - to my mind, still pretty damn low). As well as keeping the estate tax in place on estates over $3.5M, and getting aggressive on tax dodging by rich people and corporate loopholes, and the hedge fund loophole. She also says,

They are talking about reducing Medicare eligibility to age 55, and also getting rid of the grossly inefficient Medicare Advantage, which is essentially a $35 billion dollar payoff to private insurance companies.

Nice. This is a good and popular way to start to extend the umbrella of health care to more folks, albeit the most expensive way (given that 55+ are the most expensive in the risk pool of health insurance). It will help people like my own folks, where my dad, who owns his own business and pays his own health care premiums 100%, is approaching 65 but my mom is younger and would otherwise require a private plan costing thousands a year.

If there were also a provision stating small business owners of any age could opt into the Medicare system if they pay an extra 1% or 3% in FICA, I bet you’d see a huge influx of younger workers into the Medicare pool to help stabilize the risk pool, while saving those independent business owners thousands a year in private insurance premiums.

Dday concludes:

This budget is a Democratic statement of priorities, which states pretty clearly that we need a more responsible and progressive tax system that makes sure corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share. It strives for progress in health care and climate change and a winding down of commitments to foreign military adventures. And it ends blatant giveaways to industry.

There will be details that come out that I imagine I will not particularly like, and I’ll certainly fight any off the books chicanery designed to prop up elites as well as any assaults on the social safety net in this time of economic peril. But the budget is a major document. And this one is, so far, a very respectable manifestation of liberal principles.

Amen to that!

February 20, 2009

Firefighters come to the rescue

by at 6:50 pm.

LiL has learned that yesterday the Lowell Firefighters Local 853 voted overwhelmingly to accept a 24 hour pay cut by giving up two paid holidays for the remainder of this fiscal year (ending June 30th). It averages out to $600 per firefighter. Unlike furloughs this is a straight pay cut, no time off. They will still have to work the holidays.

This decision will save the City approximately $121,000 or about 20% of the remaining deficit of $501,000 fiscal 2009. Earlier, 40 non-union City employees agreed after being “asked” by the City Manager to take 3 days of furlough, thus saving the City $30,000 in wages. So now the deficit for FY 09 is down to about $410,000.

The firefighters need to be commended for stepping up to the plate. They have done their part in preserving services in the short term by working with the City Manager’s office, despite knowing what is inevitably coming in July; i.e. potential lay-offs.

Let’s see what the other unions will do to help close this gap. As for the residents of Lowell, we will all need to do our fair share either by accepting more taxes or demanding less service.

Patrick Going for Gas Tax Hike, Reform

by at 3:11 pm.

Now that’s the way it’s done.

In lieu of toll hikes, Governor Patrick is proposing instead a $.19 gas tax hike. He also wants to eliminate tolls on the Pike outside of 128, reform the MBTA pension system, and proposes the vehicle miles traveled option. (Still a bit worried about the Big Brother aspect.)

We have, for years, watched the deterioration of the MBTA after the so-called “forward funding” fiasco, where the MBTA was told to be responsible for funding expansions:

The Commonwealth assigned to the MBTA responsibility for increasing public transit to compensate for increased automobile pollution from the Big Dig (see “Big Dig remediation projects” below). The T submerged a nearby portion of the Green Line and rebuilt Haymarket and North Stations during Big Dig construction, however these projects have strained the MBTA’s limited resources since the Big Dig project did not include funding for these improvements.

Uh huh. That worked out well. This needs fixing, fast. We have to decide that having stable roads and bridges that don’t collapse and a public transit system to serve the needs of our community are worth a couple bucks a week more. Or, we could just stick our heads in the sand and pretend there’s no problem…

BMG has a great interview overview with Secretary of Transportation Jim Aloisi, if you haven’t seen it, go take a read. In his interview with them, Aloisi talks about all of the aforementioned proposals from Patrick. Particularly interesting are these details:

Aloisi explained that the 19 cents will be dedicated as follows:

6 cents “to save the T from imminent budget disaster”;
4 cents “to save the Turnpike and its toll payers from the imminent toll increases that you’ve read about in the paper that are really sky-high and are going to be very harmful to people”;
3 cents “to take down tolls west of route 128″;
1.5 cents for “regional transit authorities, to both forward fund them and to fund them in addition to their current level of funding”;
3 cents for “regional road and bridge and rail projects outside of the city [of Boston]”;
1.5 cents to “moving people in the highway department off of the capital budget, freeing up capital dollars” (apparently many highway department employees’ salaries are now paid from the capital budget — i.e., the money is borrowed — instead of the operating budget).

The LRTA and our local bridges and roads will be the winners here, as well as the solvency of the MBTA.

As for reform in the system, of course it’s needed and I look forward to supporting Patrick’s proposal on the pension reform, though I suspect, despite the numbers involved, it’s still a drop in the bucket to the budget crisis itself. That’s one of the problems of thinking “efficiency” and “reform” will solve all our problems. If you’re a Republican, you think 90% of the budget is inefficient, but in reality, these things take up a lot smaller portion of our costs than people think, despite the fact they are blown up bigger than life in the newspapers like the Lowell Sun.

I support the gas tax hike, I think Governor Patrick and Aloisi have, so far at least, showed their math and that they have a good plan to go forward, and I think our legislature ought to sincerely entertain this proposal with little “tweaking” if they want to have any chance of solving the problems we face, from budgets all the way up to the global climate crisis.

First Declared Candidate for City Council

by at 8:35 am.

We heard from declared City Council candidate Ryan Berard in comments of my last post, and I wanted to “front page” it so everyone was sure to see it.

Ryan is a Lowell native (in his bio he talks about living in Centralville and Christian Hill) and is currently attending UML. He writes in comments:

I have to say that like most other people in Lowell, I desire new blood on the city council. Massachusetts, as many of us are aware, is now, and always has been, the land of the incumbents. Once you win an election here you know that your chances of being ousted decrease dramatically. What does this say about our democratic system? Why do we allow our representatives, people we choose to represent our values, to do whatever they desire with no oversight? I am not saying that I dislike the system, I adore our elective process, and I believe it to be one of the best in the world. However, we, the voters, always desire change, yet are content to continue the status quos. Well I am personally no longer willing to only dream of change. That is why I have decided to run for the Lowell City Council and bring a fresh perspective to our local government.

(Check out what Ryan has to say on the subject of ethics on his website.) He then continues in comments:

I do not come to this decision lightly. I know that the road ahead will be filled with obstacles and obstructions, but if the citizens of Lowell feel as I do, I firmly believe that I can not only win, but that I can impact meaningful change. There are many who would doubt even the most seasoned political veterans’ chances in such a tightly packed local race. I am under no illusions; there will not be much support for me, at least in the beginning. Yet, when I think of all the major politicians whom I have heard speak, the one story that seems to connect them all, regardless of party or ideology, is that they were not given great odds in their first elections. This is true of many of our state representatives, senators, our governor, and even our current president.

I have faith and confidence in my abilities and I ask for nothing more than a chance to prove myself. I have started a website, RYANBERARD.COM, where voters can go to get a better sense of who I am and what I stand for. It is a little rough around the edges right now, but it has the basic information you need to find out where I stand. You can email me at ryan@ryanberard.com to let be know what you think or if you are interested in helping out. Even though right now most people may scoff at the idea of such a “weak” challenger, I am anything but. Not only am I capable and motivated, I am also confident beyond doubt that I will be one of Lowell’s City Council members come this November.

Dick points out (and as he says, a first for Lowell for sure) that Ryan has a facebook presence to go with his website.

A young person in the race may be able to galvanize more youth to volunteer and vote in the upcoming election, so I’m all for it. Congrats to Ryan on his decision, and we look forward to seeing more of him as the election season rolls on.

February 19, 2009

Lame Open Thread

by at 1:17 pm.

Sorry guys, I’ve been really busy this week and so, not so much posting.

So, here’s an open thread for you all. To get it started, what’s your speculation for this year’s slate of City Council candidates? Will we have a primary? Who do you think is running? Have at!

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